Marcus Smart needs to be punished, but were his actions warranted?

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By now, it’s probably old news to you.

Late on Saturday night, Marcus Smart, the star of the No. 19 Oklahoma State Cowboys, went flying into the expensive seats after trying to prevent a dunk and give the Pokes one last chance to for overtime in a game at Texas Tech.

A fan said something to Smart.

Smart reacted by shoving him.

Twitter blew up, the video of the incident was replayed hundreds of times and, before you knew it, Smart’s shove was the biggest story in all of sports.

There’s two conversations to be had here.

For starters, Smart needs to be suspended. He has to be. There is no way around this. He went into the stands and shoved a fan in response to what a fan said to him. That’s simply unacceptable, and Smart has to accept the punishment. Head coach Travis Ford knows this. Smart, at heart, probably realizes this. The suits running the Big 12 Conference know this. Everyone does.

Basketball games, particularly at the college level, are emotional environments. The fans are sitting right on top of the court, and it’s entirely too easy for something as minor as a shove to turn into a situation as ugly as the Malice at the Palace. The point that no one is making is that a minute after Smart’s shove, the buzzer sounded and Tech won. The fans stormed the court, meaning that an emotionally charged Smart was sharing court space with Red Raider fans.

Am I the only one that realizes how lucky we were that this didn’t turn into some much, much worse?

A point has to be made. There is a line that cannot be crossed, and Smart crossed it.

But that brings me to my larger point: We cannot judge Smart, the person, on this moment.

According to reports, what the fan said to Smart to draw his ire was just about the worst thing that an older white man can say to a young black man. Multiple people at the game and within earshot of Smart claim that he was yelling, “he called me a n*****“.

If you want my honest opinion here, that fan — who has been identified as Jeff Orr, a Texas Tech “superfan” — is lucky that the only thing that happened was a shove. And to a point, I actually give Smart credit here. People are going to fly off the handle about the shove, but before you start calling Smart a thug or say that his reputation is forever tarnished, remember this:

  • Smart is competitive to a fault. He does not handle losing well, and this loss was Oklahoma State’s fifth in the last six games. The Cowboys, picked to be a contender for the Big 12 title in the preseason, are now essentially down to a six-man rotation. Their season is spinning out of control, and there’s not much Smart can do about it.
  • Smart’s played some of the worst basketball of his career during this stretch, and was caught on camera curb-stomping a chair and leaving the bench, throwing a fit in a back hallway, in a win against West Virginia last month.
  • This was the second straight game that Oklahoma State lost in the final possessions. In this one, despite Smart being the lone bright spot for the Pokes, Ford opted to go to Le’Bryan Nash on the last two possessions of the game. Neither resulted in a bucket.

With all that going on, right when he realized that he was probably going to lose yet another game, he was (reportedly) called the N-word by an old white guy … and he didn’t react by throwing a punch or physically assaulting the guy.

He only pushed him.

How many people would have immediately started throwing haymakers in that moment?

If anything, the talking point here should be directed more towards the way that fans behave themselves at sporting events.

There are too many people out there that believe that the simple fact that they bought a ticket allows them to yell whatever they want at a person just because they don’t like the colors of their jersey. Some of those things they say? They’re vile. They would get you fired if you said them in your office and beaten up if you said them to the wrong person.

Why is that OK?

Why do we allow people to turn into cretins when they’re rooting for a sports team? Two hours before Smart went into the stands, an Arizona State fan spit on Oregon players and coaches after a win. How long before this kind of behavior truly does become unacceptable.

Marcus Smart is going to pay the price for his reaction, but that doesn’t mean that what he did was unwarranted.

Report: Pat Kelsey will not take the UMass job

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Moments before Pat Kelsey was set to be formally introduced as the new head coach at the University of Massachusetts, the school canceled the press conference citing, “unforeseen circumstances.”

According to Jeff Goodman of ESPN, the former Winthrop coach has decided not to accept the job.

Virginia’s Thompson to transfer

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Virginia lost another member of its team Thursday.

The Cavaliers announced Darius Thompson will transfer out of the program, a day after the news of Marial Shayok and Jarred Reuter’s departures.

“Darius Thompson informed me he has decided to play his final season at another school following his graduation from Virginia,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said in a statement released by the school. “Although you never want to see young men transfer, I understand this is part of coaching. Darius, Marial, and Jarred feel it’s in their best interests to pursue other options for the remainder of their college careers.

“I will always appreciate the contributions they made to our program.”

Thompson, who would be immediately eligible as a graduate transfer, began his career at Tennessee before transferring to Charlottesville, where he averaged 5.2 points and 1.8 assists over two seasons. The 6-foot-4 guard shot 44.8 percent from the field and 35.1 percent from 3-point range last season.

Despite the three defections, Virginia returns a number of pieces that contributed to their 23-11 season.

As we look forward, we have a strong nucleus of players returning,” Bennett said, “and I’m excited for their continued development. As a staff, we are focused on finding student-athletes who want to be a part of this program and all the University of Virginia has to offer.”

Georgetown, John Thompson III part ways

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Georgetown has parted ways with head coach John Thompson III, sources confirmed to NBC Sports.

Thompson has been the head coach of the Hoyas for 13 seasons, going 278-151 during his tenure. He won three Big East regular season titles with the program, the last of which came in 2013, and he reached the 2007 Final Four, but in recent years the program has fallen on hard times.

Georgetown confirmed the news Thursday afternoon.

“For thirteen years, he has been one of the elite coaches in college basketball,” Georgetown president John J. DeGioia said in a statement released by the school. “His performance as a coach has been exceptional, and he has served our community with remarkable distinction and integrity, sustaining our commitment to the academic performance of our students and providing them with the very best preparation for their lives beyond the Hilltop.”

Georgetown is 29-36 over the course of the last two seasons and the Hoyas have missed the NCAA tournament in three of the last four years. They’ve failed to make it out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament since that Final Four, losing to five double-digit seeds in their last six NCAA tournament appearances.

Thompson is the son of John Thompson Jr., the Hall of Fame head coach that built the Hoyas into a national power in the 80s and 90s. The University just invested more than $60 million into a renovation of the team’s practice facility which is now named The Thompson Center.

“We are committed to taking the necessary steps to strengthen our program and maintaining the highest levels of academic integrity and national competitiveness,” DeGioia said. “We will work immediately to begin a national search for a new head men’s basketball coach.

“I remain deeply grateful to John for all that he has done on behalf of Georgetown University.”

The news was first reported by CasualHoya.com.

Jeter to transfer from Duke

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A former five-star recruit is hitting the transfer market.

Chase Jeter, a top-20 talent in the Class of 2015, will transfer from Duke, the school announced Thursday.

The 6-foot-10 sophomore could never really crack the rotation with the Blue Devils, playing less than 500 minutes total over two seasons. He averaged 14.9 minutes in 16 appearances this past season.

“Chase has been an outstanding young man in our program for the last two years,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a statement released by the school. “He has been one of our top academic performers since he arrived on campus. Unfortunately, he was held back this season due to injury. We wish nothing but the absolute best for Chase and his family.”

This past season Jeter dealt with a back injury, and he did not play after Jan. 14.

“I have loved my time at Duke, getting a world-class education and competing alongside my brothers every day,” Jeter said in a statement. “After careful consideration, I decided it would be best for me to transfer to a school closer to home. I’ve made long-lasting relationships here and I want to thank my teammates and coaches for the support they’ve given me over the last two years.”

Jeter, a Las Vegas native, chose Duke in the summer of 2014 over Arizona, UNLV and UCLA.

Feeling the love: Men’s hoops squad toast of South Carolina

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) Sindarius Thornwell knew South Carolina fans would be excited about the team’s Sweet 16 appearance. The response since he has been on campus, though, surprised even him.

As Thornwell walked to the student union after class, he couldn’t take more than a couple of steps without students swarming him for selfies or asking for some tidbit about the win against Duke on Sunday.

“We’re trying to embrace the moment,” Thornwell said Tuesday. “But that was wild.”

Everyone on campus, around Columbia and even the state seem to be savoring every minute. It’s understandable, the Gamecocks haven’t been in the Sweet 16 since 1973.

It’s been a wild ride for the Gamecocks (24-10), who some wondered if they’d even get invited to the NCAA Tournament let alone produce one of the signature moments so far with their 88-81 win over the second-seeded Blue Devi ls in the East Region.

Next up is third seeded Baylor (27-7) on Friday night at Madison Square Garden for the chance to advance.

Coach Frank Martin said he’s gotten more than 1,100 text messages about Sunday night’s win and two or three from people wondering, “So I guess you’re not going to respond?” he joked.

“That’s a good problem to have,” he said.

South Carolina is gaining the attention Gamecock fans have recently showered on the football, baseball or women’s basketball programs.

Steve Spurrier, featuring NFL standouts like defensive end Jadeveon Clowney , receiver Alshon Jeffrey and cornerback Stephon Gilmore, won the Southeastern Conference East Division in 2010 and had three straight 11-2 seasons from 2011-13.

Baseball won back-to-back College World Series under now athletic director Ray Tanner in 2010 and 2011. Thousands turned out for victory parades to the Statehouse when the team returned home.

Most recently, South Carolina’s women’s basketball team, led by new U.S. women’s national team coach Dawn Staley, has gained much of the attention with four straight SEC regular season titles. The Gamecocks have led the women’s game in attendance the past three seasons.

Now, men’s basketball is getting some love.

“We’re happy to be part of that,” sophomore point guard P.J. Dozier said.

There was a time when men’s basketball led the way at South Carolina when New York City native Frank McGuire turned a sleepy program into a national power with a pipeline of NYC kids like John Roche, Tom Owens, Bobby Cremins, Brian Winters and Mike Dunleavy Sr.

McGuire led the Gamecocks to the NCAA round of 16 three straight seasons from 1971-73 – there were just 25 schools involved – and his team was considered the cream of the crop in South Carolina athletic circles.

But McGuire’s touch ran out in the mid-1970s and the Gamecocks have struggled for an identity for more than 40 years.

South Carolina won its only Southeastern Conference crown in 1997, but lost in the NCAAs as a No. 2 seed. The Gamecocks returned to the tournament the next season, that time falling as a No. 3 seed.

The Gamecocks high-water mark until now may be the consecutive NIT crowns won by coach Dave Odom in 2005 and 2006.

Martin and these Gamecocks are out to add another level of success to the program.

The fifth-year coach said that being around Spurrier – “Steve calls me every day,” Martin said – Tanner and Staley make him a better leader and give him examples of building winning cultures.

“I’m a big believer in winning leads to winning,” he said.

An emotional Martin, overcome by his team’s Duke win, told the players in the locker room, “Let’s go win this thing.”

He said Tuesday he wanted his players to know that by beating Duke, they proved they’re good enough to play with anyone left in the field.

Thornwell heard that over and over from friends, family and hundreds of new acquaintances he’s made the past 48 hours.

“We’re just having fun,” he said, “enjoying the game, enjoying every moment.”